"League of Legends is a team game": By now, it’s safe to assume that a lot of players, whether casual or top of the ladder, have heard this said at least once. However, even at the highest level of gameplay, there aren’t too many teams that can really play the "team game" to its utmost limit.
This season, however, there was one team that got close to team game perfection: LCK reigning champions T1. The storied roster overcame their individual mistakes through near-perfect team synergy, resulting in an undefeated split. So how did they achieve this team game zen?
Five players, one set of eyes
While most of the teams in the LCK were rebuilding their rosters, T1 focused on strengthening their 2021 one. All members on the team have now played on the LCK Finals (second in 2021 LCK Summer) and Worlds (top 4) stages and in the process, they've grown stronger through defeat.
In terms of team gameplay, T1 were levels above other LCK teams. No matter how organized the opposition was, T1 turned even the smallest gaps into snowballing leads. T1 made even high-skilled opponents look worse, because even if one player on the enemy team was an inch out of sync, they'd make a mistake and T1 would punish them for it.
A great example of this is game 1 of the 2022 LCK Spring Finals, where Gen.G had to make a decision on whether or not to burst down the Rift Herald or turn on T1 to take the fight. Gen.G couldn’t make a unified call, so T1 decided to give up the Rift Herald and play the front-to-back teamfight. Something similar happened during the Baron fight as well, and since T1 moved better as a single unit, you can almost argue that it was T1’s game to win.
Oner and Zeus gets caught, but T1 still manages to turn things around
Let’s take game 3 of T1’s semifinal match against Kwangdong Freecs as another example. KDF managed to take out Moon “Oner” Hyeon-joon’s Lee Sin and Choi “Zeus” Woo-je’s Kennen prior to the dragon teamfight. Losing the dragon was one thing, but it looked like it could potentially lead to Baron for KDF. If it was any other team that lost their top and jungle, they would’ve backed off first.
However, T1 were thinking about the one single play that they could make to turn things around. Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok’s Vex and Lee “Gumayusi” Min-hyeong’s Jinx were alive, which meant that getting the catch on one single member could lead to a potential 3v5 teamfight victory. And they made that play beautifully, as Ryu “Keria” Min-seok’s Nautilus found the perfect hook on Park “Teddy” Jin-seong’s Xayah. The play was only possible because everyone was looking at the same angle in that short window.
T1 knew how to handle sidelane pressure as well. In the semifinals between Gen.G and DWG KIA, it was the plays of Jeong “Chovy” Ji-hoon which engineered Gen.G's comebacks. Even when Gen.G would fall behind in gold, Chovy kept scaling and pressuring side lanes to get objective bounties. Before anyone knew it, the gold gap had closed by a significant margin. Chovy showed enough strength in his ability to pressure side lanes, even taking on enemies 1v2.
T1, however, knew how to cleverly render his side lane pressure. In game 1 of the finals, Faker was able to survive the assault from Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk’s Ezreal and Choi “Doran” Hyeon-joon’s Ornn in the bot lane. All five members of T1 immediately realized that as soon as Gen.G invested resources in bot, they could pull the trigger on Chovy in the top lane, who was farming relatively safely in front of his tier 2 turret. The kill on Chovy was possible due to all five T1 players being on the same page and knowing exactly what to do when Faker got jumped.
There are a lot of players that are towards the top of the LCK on an individual level. From Kim “Canyon” Geon-bu to Chovy, their abilities to carry has reliably pushed their teams to semifinals and beyond. However, that was still not enough to beat the team that was looking at the game with the same pair of eyes.
"You're already dead, you just haven't caught up yet."
Just because a team’s good at making split-second decisions, it doesn’t mean that everything will play out smoothly. T1 were a team that excelled at creating setups and knew how to make moves to create more advantageous states for themselves.
At the core are Oner’s early game ganks. It’s pretty common to see T1's tower dives in the top lane being smoother than other teamss. When T1 decide to spend resources in the top lane, Zeus always trades to chunk his enemy or make them waste their survivability skills. This was clearly evident in their semifinal match against KDF. In the past, Kim “Kiin” Ki-in’s Akali has proven to be incredibly tricky to deal with, regularly surviving three-man dives. However, T1 were able to get the clean kill on him. Zeus’ Kennen pressured Kiin hard early and made him use Twilight Shroud [W], allowing Oner’s Lee Sin to make the dive right away and get the kill on the elusive Kenne.
Gumayusi and Keria made plays that looked like they were sharing coordinates on Summoner’s Rift. In game 2 of the LCK Finals, Keria engaged on Doran’s Akali, who had a 500g bounty on his head. At first glance, it was odd to see the support engage on a fed Akali. Furthermore, with all the mobility that Akali has, it's hard to predict her movements. However, Gumayusi was able to predict where Akali was going to be when Keria got the hook on her and landed the Super Mega Death Rocket [R].
Something similar happened in game 3 of the finals as well. When T1 were sieging the mid tier 1 turret, Keria confidently walked up and Ignited Chovy’s Leblanc. It looked odd at first glance, because Keria’s Ignite was never going to kill Chovy. But once again, Gumayusi got the snipe with Jinx’s R on Leblanc, which eventually led to a kill.
Keria was able to see how the play was going to pan out, so he started the trade by Igniting Chovy. T1 could’ve easily just played the siege game and pressured Gen.G in a steady fashion. However, they were able to snowball their advantages even quicker by creating these setups that lead to these kills.
T1 set these clear goals for themselves and execute them beautifully. It’s also incredibly hard to predict such plays, so it feels as if T1 excel on a fundamental level, because for them, these plays come almost naturally.
Some say that T1 only look as good as they do now because other teams in the LCK have gotten worse. Now that T1’s representing the LCK at the upcoming Mid-Season Invitational 2022, they have a chance to showcase their supremacy on the international stage.
Striving for perfection to achieve excellence in esports